What Guitar Does BB King Use

What Guitar Does BB King Use?

BB King is an American guitarist, singer/songwriter and producer. He developed a style of soloing based on string bending and a picking style that has been emulated by many guitarists over the years. BB King is known as the “King of the Blues”. He was a very active performer averaging 200 shows per year right up to his 70s. In 1956 he played 342 shows.

What Kind Of Guitar Did BB King Play?

BB King had a large collection of guitars mainly Gibson ES-355 semi-hollow body guitars. He called each one “Lucille” The story goes that he was playing in a run down club where there was a large container half full of kerosene that was set alight to produce heat. Everybody used to dance around the fire, until one night when 2 drunks had a fight and knocked the container over.

BB King said because it was a kerosene fire the flames spread across the hall very quickly. Everyone got out safely but BB King realised he’d left his guitar inside and rushed back in to save it. He said he got the guitar but the building was falling down around him and he was lucky to get out unscathed. He later found out that the 2 men were fighting over a woman called Lucille and he named that guitar and every subsequent guitar “Lucille” to remind him never to run into a burning building again.

Other guitars BB King has used include:

  • Fender Esquire
  • Gibson J-45
  • Gibson L-30 Archtop
  • Gibson Les Paul Goldtop
  • Gibson ES-5
  • 1958 Gibson Flying V
  • Gibson ES-355
    This was BB’s main guitar of choice, in some of the models he owned he blocked the F holes to combat feedback.

Who Has BB King Worked With During His Long Career?

BB King has played with many great artists over the years including:

  • Dr John
  • Jim Keltner
  • Nathan East
  • Sheryl Crow
  • John Mayer
  • Elton john
  • Van Morrison
  • Bonnie Raitt
  • Eric Clapton
  • And many more

What Strings Did BB King Use?

BB King used to use a mixed gauge set of strings that ran 010, 013, 017, 030, 044, 054 so his set up was heavy on the bottom 4 strings and medium gauge on the top 2 strings. He believed in using strings for comfort but also gave a great tone. At one time Gibson produced a set called BB King signature strings but they are getting harder to find.

As an alternative you could try the following:

  • Ernie Ball Skinny Top Beefy Bottom (010-052)
  • D’Addario Light Top Heavy Bottom  (010-052)

What Amps Did BB King Use?

BB King’s main amp was the Lab series L5 which is a surprising choice really as it is a solid state amp and most blues players prefer tube amps. But BB was aiming for clear crisp tones and the L5 gave him that tone.

The other amp that BB used was a Fender Twin Reverb. This was his back up amp for when he couldn’t play the L5 he is quoted as saying

“The Fender Twin was great, but I have an old Lab Series amp that isn’t being made anymore. I fell in love with it, because its sound is right between the old Fender amps that we used to have and the Fender Twin”.

What Effects Pedals Did BB King Use?

BB King never used any effects pedals (like many blues guitarists) but to achieve that BB King sound we recommend you use some sort of boost pedal, maybe one of the following:

  • Xotic EP Booster
  • ZVEX Super Hard On Preamp Boost Pedal
  • MXR Micro Amp
  • Katana Clean boost Mini
  • Tc Electronic Spark booster

What Pickups Did BB King Use?

BB King’s “Lucille” was fitted with a 490R Alnico humbucker in the neck and a 490T Alnico pickup in the bridge

BB King
Gorupdebesanez, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

What Chords Did BB King Use?

BB King was a blues guitarist through and through, he never played any chords as such other than E, A and B which he learned at 9 years old from his pastor at church. In fact he once told Bono from U2

“I’m no good with chords, so what we do is, uh, get somebody else to play chords… I’m horrible with chords”. That may be true or not but he certainly knew the blues scale and the pentatonic scales too.

What Pick Did BB King Use?

There is no recorded reference to BB King ever using a pick, but he can be seen using a heavy red pick on one of his recorded shows. So to get that BB King sound you’ll need a heavy nylon or plastic pick.

What Kind Of Music Did BB King Play?

BB king is a famous blues guitarist but that’s not all he played, he has the following classifications:

  • Gospel
  • Soul
  • Rhythm and blues
  • Rock and Roll
  • Electric Blues

How To Play Guitar Like BB King

To play guitar like BB King you’ll need a hollow bodied electric guitar similar to the 355 BB played. It should be strung with either Ernie Ball Skinny Top Beefy Bottom (010-052)

Or D’Addario Light Top Heavy Bottom  (010-052). Run it through a booster pedal and into a L5 amp (if you can find one) or a Fender twin.

Then you’re ready to start playing blues or pentatonic solos with little licks between phrases. He used simple box shaped riffs and every now and then he threw in a downward slide to link the riffs together. The actual shape and style of his riffs are easy to copy, it’s his timing that makes the difference along with the way he used to bend strings.

What Age Did BB King Learn Guitar?

BB King’s mother died when he was only 9 years old. He took great comfort in the African American church. It was the pastor at this church that taught BB King the rudiments of guitar playing. He eventually got a spot on a radio program where he was billed as the “Beale street blues boy” which eventually got shortened to “Blues Boy King”.

Frequently Asked Questions

What guitar amp did BB King use?

BB King’s guitar amp of choice was the Lab Series L5 but he also used a Fender Twin Reverb as a backup amp.

Who taught BB King on guitar?

BB King learned the basics from the pastor at his church, a man named the reverend Fair. He taught BB the chords of E, A and B. The rest he learned by watching other guitarists and playing by ear.

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